Sounds Good: Perpetual Guardian Foundation and Sonnar Interactive Launch First English-Te Reo Storytelling Skill on Amazon Alexa


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Philanthropy has entered the world of digital storytelling with the development of a world-first English-Te Reo M?ori storytelling Skill on Amazon Alexa, the tech giant’s proprietary virtual assistant. The free Alexa Skill has been created under the auspices of the Perpetual Guardian Foundation with a grant from the Shifted Perspectives fund, which received seed funding from the legacy of Alice and Stan Flavell and honours their interest in philanthropic work serving children with blindness or low light perception.

To mark the launch and make the Alexa Skill widely accessible, the Foundation is gifting $10,000 worth of Amazon Alexa equipment and teaching resources to children with accessibility needs and is putting a call out to find a worthy organisation or school to donate this equipment to. 

Perpetual Guardian Foundation general manager Kirsten Taylor says the Alexa Skill is designed to appeal to all children and access citizens interested in experiential storytelling and/or wanting to learn Te Reo M?ori. “It is available free to anyone who would like to use it, including people with no visual impairment. We are grateful to journalist and author Miriama Kamo and illustrator Zak Waipara for donating her children’s adventure book, The Stolen Stars of Matariki, for use on the Skill, and the story has been voiced by singer-songwriter Anna Coddington. 

“Both Miriama and Anna are passionate about Te Reo and are mums, so there is a great fit with the mission of the Skill and with children as the primary users of it. We also appreciate the support of Scholastic NZ, which gave us free licence to reinvent Miriama’s story and re-publish it in this format free of charge. We will be adding Little Red Riding Hood to the story options in due course.”

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes says the Alexa Skill development is an example of philanthropy in action, and of the enormous capacity to innovate through philanthropy for wider social benefit. “We set up the Foundation to itself be as flexible and innovate as the work it funds – and to that end, we encourage everyday philanthropists who would like to support the work of the Shifted Perspectives fund to become donors to the fund. Anyone can contribute any amount of money on either a one-off or longer-term basis, and it enables people with shared goals to come together and make a collective impact for the common good.”

Digital innovator Jarek Beksa is one of the brilliant minds behind the Alexa Skill; he previously developed video games for visually impaired players and is the CEO of Sonnar Interactive, the for-profit organisation and Amazon partner which received the grant for the app development. The company has long had a philanthropic mission and, following this initial foray as a Perpetual Guardian partner, is opening the Sonnar Foundation under the umbrella of the Perpetual Guardian Foundation to further its social enterprise work.

Mr Beksa says, “This is the first skill of its type for Alexa and Google Home. Our goal was to make language learning entertaining, fun and accessible, especially for children with vision impairment. We combined passionate storytelling, sound effects, music and visuals to create a highly engaging experience.

“Learning works best when it’s interactive, so users can listen to the words in Te Reo and English and test their knowledge and pronunciation through the glossary and quiz. By using smart speakers, it is practically accessible and financially affordable – users just have to give voice commands, there is no need for a touchscreen or keyboard, and the basic Alexa device costs only $49.”

Sonnar’s relationship with Amazon began in early 2018, when the tech giant recognised the quality of their application development and anointed them the first – and so far, only – managed studio partner of Amazon in New Zealand, a position which comes with benefits including collaboration, mentoring and platform promotion. The company is now a member of the Alexa Developers Council and has participated in workshops to improve Alexa at Amazon’s Seattle HQ. The company has won international awards for its work to date in 2019, including the Warner Music Alexa Hackaton and Best Multimodal Kids Skill experience award at Alexa Multimoda Challenge 2019 (Kids Karaoke).

About the Alexa Skill

The Skill and Google Home action:

Project description:

The voice-activated bilingual Alexa Skill for visually impaired youth and adults is designed to

enhance reading and language learning skills, i.e. the user can switch between languages spontaneously. The Skill is available free of charge for schools, kindergartens and individuals.

This project exposes children to what is likely a totally new device to them, reaching a segment of the population that has historically been left behind by technological advancement, and spreading the suite of benefits that smart speakers can bring to people who live with vision loss. 

It is the first M?ori language Skill on Amazon Alexa, with the unique ability to switch between English and M?ori while in play – offering a seamless bilingual experience for users. M?ori language revival has been a great priority for New Zealand’s educational sector for the past few years. There are many children who are being exposed to bilingual education, earlier in the curriculum. This Skill aligns with that trend; provides children an added platform on which they can enhance their Te Reo language skills; and gives educational providers an added tool to the teaching and learning experience. The special design of the skill for children with vision loss (though it can be used more widely) means they too are included in the indigenous language revival movement.

Interactive story on smart speakers and mobile devices:

Accessible audio games: (application free to download, later requires subscription)

The Sonnar portfolio:

About Perpetual Guardian 

New Zealand’s leading statutory trust business, Perpetual Guardian, was created with the coming together of Perpetual Trust and Guardian Trust. As two of New Zealand’s oldest trustee companies, they have more than 130 years of experience in providing estate planning services to New Zealand individuals, families and companies.

In the private client services sector, Perpetual Guardian’s mission is to ensure that every New Zealander has a Will and every child is protected by one. They do this by making Wills affordable and accessible to everyone. All consultants are specialists in their field – for example, Client Managers are experts in finding a solution that uniquely fits each client’s needs, using well-crafted Wills, Trusts, EPAs and other legal structures. Perpetual Guardian helps to preserve everything clients have worked for by ensuring their wishes are carried out, often for generations, after they are gone. 

The experience and reputation of Guardian Trust has made the company the preferred provider of corporate trustee services for many of New Zealand’s leading corporations, financial institutions, fund managers and banks. Guardian Trust proactively monitors the obligations of its clients to their investors in a commercial and pragmatic manner and with regard to its duties at law, including the provisions of the relevant Trust deed. As a statutory supervisor and corporate trustee, Guardian Trust has over $150 billion in assets under supervision.

As the country’s pre-eminent provider of philanthropic services, Perpetual Guardian offers strategic advice, long-term investment management, careful planning and a commitment to ensuring that people’s generosity is effectively sustained over many lifetimes. 

As the custodian of philanthropic investments, Perpetual Guardian works hard to understand and act upon the founding visions of its clients. It understands that the desire to give comes from the heart, but the ability to make an ongoing difference comes from sound thinking and careful planning. Perpetual Guardian has the expertise and experience to assist its clients in becoming more thoughtful and intentional in their giving so that their personal philanthropy can have greater impact.

Perpetual Guardian assists in creating the legal and administrative structures needed to optimise and secure its clients’ legacies. It has cultivated an unrivalled presence in the charitable sector to ensure effective governance of the Trust investment strategy and smooth, transparent transfers of grants and distributions to charitable causes.

In its experience the most successful philanthropic enterprises are characterised by effective giving principals and rigorous investment strategies. Perpetual Guardian helps its clients create lasting legacies and ensure that their philanthropic funding is translated into ongoing successful results.


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